Single-use, multiple pressures

Single-use, multiple pressures

As the pandemic continues to rage, the need for personal and professional protection has grown, placing strain on the supply of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE). Rowan Watt-Pringle delves into the issues

The rapid spread of infection across the world since March has left PPE suppliers scrambling to meet demand not only from healthcare providers, but also from individuals looking to protect themselves. The result is a global shortage of single-use PPE products.

SHEQ has already been told of a 20-fold increase in demand for single-use gloves by Raymond Rainbird from protective glove manufacturer and supplier Ansell. Clearly, where demand outstrips supply, alternative offerings will begin to be fast-tracked to meet consumers’ needs. While many of these offerings may be sourced from reputable suppliers and meet the necessary standards, uncertified or inferior quality products inevitably start to appear. When it comes to PPE that is designed to safeguard people’s health, this represents a significant concern, especially if those products are being supplied to frontline healthcare workers who are directly exposed to the virus on a daily basis.

Randfontein-based Select PPE is a specialist in the procurement and distribution of multi-brand PPE products across the African continent. Riaan Goosen, the company’s senior product marketing manager, says that it is very important for people to make sure that they are getting high-quality products amid major concerns that sub-standard products are finding their way to market: “This poses a major safety risk to the end-user, including the potential for injury or contracting diseases that may have been avoided if good-quality PPE was used,” he says. “Consumers should check that products have been certified by a reputable testing laboratory and – if they want to be sure that they are getting high-quality products – only buy from reputable PPE suppliers with clearly evident experience in this sector.”

PPE suppliers have been forced to think on their feet during the pandemic, with Goosen noting that Select PPE has had to source products from abnormal channels to keep up with increased demand. The disruption to supply chains has also brought with it a shortage in the supply of the raw materials manufacturers need to produce single-use PPE. Goosen says that filter media and nitrile materials in particular have been affected.

Another major concern with the growth in single-use products is the huge increase in waste related to PPE offerings. While no official processes have yet been set up to deal with the overflow of PPE equipment used once and then discarded, this could represent an opportunity to explore alternative manufacturing materials. Remember that SHOWA, for example, has already brought out the world’s first biodegradable single-use gloves.

Unfortunately, this still seems to be the exception rather than the rule. While the strain on natural resources has led to calls to find synthetic materials for use in the manufacturing of PPE, for example, Goosen says that no significant developments have occurred in the way single-use PPE is being produced, with manufacturers continuing to supply basic products.

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